bad to have fat friends, or bad to be goth?
October 24, 2003 11:15 AM

Today I saw some of the photos used in the Liverpool study that highlights cultural assumptions based on people having fat friends. To summarize, they showed 100 some people pictures of a guy with a fat woman, then the same guy, same pose, with a thin woman. And the study subjects (the ones seeing the pictures) were more likely to associate the man with the fat woman as "miserable, self-indulgent, passive, shapeless, likes food, depressed, weak, unattractive, insignificant and insecure".

I don't have any new news to report on this study, but I'm curious (as always) about the methodology. The BBC article makes it unclear whether the two photos they show are the only ones subjects saw - while I can't imagine that could be so, there are a number of other significant differences between those two women - see fat picture vs. thin picture. Did similar differences exist between all pairs of women in the photos? How do we know that those factors didn't influence subjects' assessment of the guys?

In this case, the fat woman looks to be leaving for a night at a moderate goth club, and the thin one looks like she's headed to the prom; the guy's attitude and outfit could be interpreted differently in either scenario. The thin woman is closer and looks at the camera, the fat one leans away. The women's body language could make the pictures tell very different stories. And hey, maybe Liverpudlians just hate goths and people who are distant. All the words associated more often with the man shown with a fatter woman are, after all, not dissimilar from the associations of mainstream folk with goth kids, though you could add a whole other subset of "dangerous, creepy, suicidal, needs therapy" if you so desired.

Admittedly, if the subjects saw a wide range of pictures that included more affectionately posed fat women and more counterculture-looking thin women, the sum total of those pictures might cancel out any differences between individual women, but I'm curious as to why those individual differences were included at all. I'm curious why this study wouldn't have used images that made the difference between the women other than fat v. thin less noticeable. Why not pose them the same way? Why not alter photos of the same woman to make her thin or fat?

Any thoughts? Anyone know more about this study? Maybe seeing some of the other pictures used (assuming there were other pictures) would help.

I'm not implying, by the way, that the bias found in this study doesn't exist. I have seen it in my own experiences; any 10 year old could tell you that having a friend who is "different" is the kiss of death when your goal is to fit in and be accepted (it becomes more clear the older I get that we still live by the social rules established in fifth grade). But that doesn't mean I don't want to understand the flaws in a study that may relate to me. We should hold supporting and detracting studies to the same standards of relevance and accuracy.

On that note, Paul posts a restaurant (and consumer) backed assessment that some of those "obesity crisis" statistics are flawed. I'm shocked - shocked, I tell you!

[Edited to add an amusing side note - I think I may be taken to task on the BFB comments for saying the fat woman looks goth. Apparently my assessment may have been off. Silliness.]

[Comments closed on this post due to the vast stupidity of most things people have posted. If you have an intelligent comment to add, please email me.]

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these are the thoughts of arnold on March 4, 2005 08:23 PM

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